In a Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education meeting, TPS announced a significant drop in current enrollment for the school year.
Tulsa Public Schools administrators released the district’s current enrollment numbers for the school year, saying enrollment is down significantly and they discussed some of the reasons why.
"I can't tell you exactly where they are going,” said Jorge Robles. “It could be that we are just not seeing them yet."
Tulsa Public Schools said in the 2017-2018 school year, enrollment was 36,623 students and in the 2018-2019 school year it was 35,471. The enrollment for the 2019-2020 school year was 35,298. Their current enrollment for October is down to 32,323 students. The district said this is nearly three times the amount lost in previous years.
They said over the past three years they've been diligently working to understand enrollment and why parents are choosing other schools over TPS.
"Over the last few years we've been really focusing on trying to address it head on and figure out ways to understand it and address it going forward,” said Robles.
District leaders said they’re increasing dual language options, they’ve added a Montessori program, and they’ve been working to add different options that sound more appealing to parents.
“It is in the early grade levels, specifically elementary level, where we’ve seen the most significant decline,” said Robles.
The district said in the 1970's, Tulsa Public Schools had nearly 80,000 students.
District leaders said they've seen a steady decline over the past 30 years, but the numbers have decreased at a higher rate in the past five years. The district said they believe the significant drop is due to families moving to other districts or the suburbs.
"There was an overall decline of a couple hundred students per year instead of the closer to multiple hundred students or even closer to a thousand students that they've seen in the past five years,” said Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist.
The district said they haven't seen a decline or growth in population that has been significant over the past 5 years. They said urban districts in the state, like Oklahoma City, are also seeing similar trends. They also said despite the loss, they've seen other families relocate into the district.
The district also said they've been asking families about the reasons they are leaving the district and many have said it's due to the pandemic. They said within the district they’ve seen a bigger decline in some of their neighborhood schools due to word of mouth.
"It’s quite remarkable how many people in Tulsa have preconceived notions about our schools,” said Dr. Gist.
The district said the largest declines have been among Latinx students and the biggest high schools impacted by the steady drop in enrollment have been in the Hale and East Central Feeder patterns.
“Looking at the students from their home address, the decline manifests across the feeder patterns,” said Robles.
The district also said they've seen the biggest drop in earlier grades like Pre-K and Kindergarten. They believe this is due to parents keeping their kids at home.
They said enrollment for the older grades has remained consistent, but they're hoping to see these numbers come up when they return to in-person learning. The district said despite the pandemic, they're still working to find ways to bring families to the district and retain the ones they have.
"When we do our job of making sure that they see the quality of what’s happening and they know how to access it and they have the information available," Dr. Gist said. "It’s not that we’ve lost families, so that’s promising, that’s an opportunity."
The district’s next school board meeting on November 2 will be held in person at the Education Service Center. Board members will still have the option to attend virtually.